Connecticut recently became the first state in the nation to require that Black and Latino studies be offered in our public high schools. The goal, according to the state Board of Education, is to provide all students with a better understanding of the contributions that African American, Black, Puerto Rican and Latino people have made to the United States.
The new courses must be contained in high school curricula as of the fall of 2022.
However, it is with profound irony that in the same week of the decision to highlight contributions of minorities through our educational system, a report issued by an independent third party highlights how Connecticut public schools are drastically failing to serve the educational needs of minority students. It is not because of a lack of classes on the contributions of minorities.
The report, issued by the Alliance for Excellent Education, is pretty damning as it shows how Connecticut is not properly serving our minority students. While state Education Department officials likely will disagree with the findings contained in the report, it nonetheless is consistent with what many special education attorneys and child advocate colleagues in the state already know — and have known for quite some time.
Interestingly, the alliance report says that Connecticut seemingly is taking advantage of a new accountability system, thereby leaving some minority students underserved. Accountability is a focus of the federal Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA.
ESSA is the law that replaced No Child Left Behind and was meant to evaluate schools based on more than just a test score. States themselves were asked to come up with ways to measure student success and assign school ratings.
No matter how you fairly look at it, there are major disparities between education provided white students compared to the education provided Hispanic or Black students here in Connecticut. Compare the education offered by, say, West Hartford schools versus Hartford schools. Trumbull schools versus Bridgeport schools. New London schools versus Waterford schools.
Of course, some will note the differences in funding with urban schools typically spending less per student than those in the suburbs. That should again highlight the need for the state to explore new methods of funding our schools. Reliance on municipal property taxes is no longer fair.
In a school year riddled with COVID-19, the disparity between the education provided white students and the education provided minority students is even more profound. Connecticut only identified nine schools in the entire state that called for additional support for minority students. That certainly is at odds with the alliance report.
Now more than ever, it is abundantly and statistically clear what we have known for a very long time. Black and Latino students are about four times as a likely to attend low-rated schools than white students here in the Nutmeg State. Even for those not directly involved in education in Connecticut, that data should be empirically obvious.
Remarkably, Connecticut’s Education Department only identified 4 percent of our schools needing additional comprehensive support. Clearly, we must do better. We must demand more from our state Board of Education.
The bottom line is that this recently published alliance report requires us to take a better look at ourselves and call on our elected legislators, state and local, to reevaluate how we define accountability under ESSA.
We must ensure that our state’s minority students have just as much educational opportunity as everyone else. We must do better. Now is the time.
Jeffrey L. Forte is a special education attorney and certified child advocate. His firm, Forte Law Group, represents families that have a child with a disability and helps parents protect the educational rights of all children.
By Jeffrey L. Forte, Esq. – Special Education Attorney & Certified Child Advocate
Regardless of the area of law, all attorneys must meet with a prospective client in what is commonly referred to as “the initial legal consultation.” This critical meeting is the first meeting that is held between you, the potential new client, and the potential attorney. As a practical matter, I use the term “potential” because you are in essence both checking each other out and mutually gathering information and advice that can help with your potential case. The process of the initial legal consultation also helps both the potential client and attorney decide whether or not they legally and ethically want to move forward and work together by establishing an official attorney-client relationship.
Regardless of how formal or informal the initial legal consultation may be, it is critically important that both the potential client and the potential attorney come fully prepared in order to make the best use of your time (and money) together.
Below are find my recommendations for parents who have never met with a special education attorney before but are planning to do so. Following my tips will maximize your valued time when meeting with an experienced special education attorney.
FILL OUT AND RETURN YOUR CLIENT QUESTIONNAIRE & DOCUMENTS IN A TIMELY MANNER.
As a potential new client of the Forte Law Group LLC, I take time to thoroughly prepare for all initial legal consultations by reviewing your client questionnaire form and all the documents you send to my office in advance of our first meeting. This helps me to evaluate your potential claims, determine any statute of limitations and to conduct a preliminary case evaluation of potential claims and remedies for you. Your time with me will be most productive if you fill the questionnaire out fully and send your child’s records to my office in a timely matter before the initial legal consultation.
DO LOOK THROUGH THE INFORMATION ON OUR WEBSITE.
The information provided on the Forte Law Group website intended to answer some of the basic questions parents commonly have when they come in for an initial legal consultation. It should not be construed as legal advice, because it does not account for the technicalities that may come into play for your child’s particular situation. It should, however, give you a feel for the basic vocabulary used in the area of special education law and also provide you with a listing of the recent results have achieved for the many families I represent throughout Connecticut. Many of my blogs also address child special education issues and provide an understanding of the progression of different types of special education cases from PPT meetings to mediation and due process litigation. Moreover, the tips and information we provide on our website are FREE, so we don’t want you to pay for the time it would take for us to explain it to you!
HAVE A WRITTEN LIST OF QUESTIONS TO WHICH YOU CAN REFER TO.
Just as you would do before going to a PPT meeting, you should write down any questions you have so that you do not forget to ask them. I encourage you to write down a list of questions you have for me so you can refer to the list during the initial legal consultation. If your loved ones and anyone else you trust have specific questions, write those down in advance as well. Just trust me on this one: you will not be able to concentrate on the wealth of information I provide you with during the initial legal consultation if you are thinking of your next question!
BRING OR FORWARD COPIES OF ALL THE DOCUMENTS YOU HAVE THAT ARE RELEVANT TO YOUR CHILD’S EDUCATION.
Often time your child’s education records that thought meant nothing to you could mean everything to me best advocating for your child. If you have copies of your child’s evaluations, assessments, progress reports and the like, please bring them in or forward them to us so we can review them during your appointment. Sometimes these your child’s records can explain the causes of action and potential claims better than you, the potential client, can!
BE READY TO TAKE A FEW NOTES.
It can be difficult to remember what you discussed with me days or even weeks later when the situation arises again. My office and I encourage all potential new clients to take a few notes on important discussion topics during the initial legal consultation, so they have something to jog their memory later. Additionally, there may be follow-up information or documents we need you to obtain before we can take the next step, and it is always helpful to have those type of instructions written down.
ADULT DECISIONS REQUIRE ADULT ATTENDANCE, DO EXPECT YOUR FAMILY MEMBERS TO SIT IN THE WAITING AREA DURING YOUR APPOINTMENT.
I recommend that you confer with your trusted loved ones before going into the initial consultation so that you are able to get answers to their questions. Due to the current Coronavirus pandemic, our practice also offers virtual video appointments.
THE INITIAL LEGAL CONSULTATION IS MORE OR LESS ABOUT ONE HOUR.
Although my office schedules each initial legal consultation for one hour, your actual appointment may technically last more or less than one hour. It depends on the complexity of your situation and how much information you were able to have organized before your initial consultation with me. Either way, you will leave the initial legal consultation with a proposed strategy in mind. Thus, it is to your advantage to come fully prepared (by following the above tips, of course!) to discuss your situation.
HOW THE SAUSAGE IS MADE: WHAT ACTUALLY HAPPENS AT THE ATTORNEY-CLIENT INITIAL LEGAL CONSULTATION.
I will take time to understand your child’s situation, develop your legal claim(s), and determine with you what our realistic legal strategy and remedies should be to resolve your child’s education claims to the fullest extent available by law. I will patiently and thoroughly take time to answer your questions, separate legal myths from legal facts, and otherwise, ease your worries about the unknown. I provide advice and explanations tailored to your child’s situation that stems from my years of experience, education, and specialized training. I promise to guide our clients with straight-talk and compassion. You may not hear what you expected, or what you want to hear, but we won’t hide the legal realities of your case from you. Instead, we face the realities of your case head-on. I often ask potential new clients what is the end result that you wish to seek for your child and sometimes seek a solution around the law rather than through the law to achieve the right result without the litigation fight or emotional toll on your family.
Practically speaking, we offer both virtual consultations and in-office consultations. And did I mention we have coffee? All office visitors can enjoy a fresh coffee from our K-cup coffee machine, which we keep stocked with a wide variety of coffees for you to try. We also have tea and bottled water for those who don’t need the extra caffeine, though!
TO RETAIN OR NOT TO RETAIN, THAT IS THE QUESTION.
Meeting with me for the initial legal consultation does not mean you are required to hire me as your lawyer to represent you. Indeed, hiring an attorney may not be appropriate for your situation. Parents frequently come in for an initial consultation with questions about their child’s education and end up not needing to hire a special education lawyer!
The decision is always yours to make at any point in time. However, you should expect an experienced special education attorney to present to you a retainer amount, a retainer agreement, and a proposed legal strategy towards the end of the initial legal consultation.
OK, HOW MUCH? WELL, THAT DEPENDS ON THE FACTS OF THE CASE AND THE OUTCOME YOU ARE SEEKING.
One of my favorite famous quotes that I believe helps clients better understand the importance of the attorney-client relationship is from Warren Buffet, that says “Price is what you pay; value is what you get.”
At Forte Law Group your legal retainer amount is based on several factors some of which include the anticipated level and scope of the legal engagement, the forecasted amount of time needed to investigate and research your claims, and the complexity of your case. The retainer amount will be an up-front, sum of money that will be deposited into my law firm’s trust account from which our attorneys and staff members will bill their time against at their hourly rates. Your retainer money is kept in a separate client trust account and only transferred to our operating account when it is earned by our firm doing work on your case. We do accept hybrid payment plans as well, such as monthly fees for legal consultation work, and also “cap” our fees for mediation and due process litigation so families can budget their expenses. Often times a parent may very well need to tap into their child’s college or trust fund now in order to ensure their child will be able to successfully attend college in the future or in certain circumstances plan for their future needs now in order to achieve some level of independence or residential/group home support.
Additionally, the retainer amount is not to be confused with our estimation of the total cost of achieving a resolution to your situation. It is very likely that the retainer amount will not cover the total cost of your case. What I can tell you about the total cost of our representation is that frequently, and especially in special education litigation cases, the total cost will depend on how irrational the opposing party is. But, if your case costs less than the retainer amount, your unused money will be returned to you at the conclusion of the attorney-client relationship, which is almost always established with me after potential new clients meet me with at the initial legal consultation.
For more information, parents can also join and subscribe to my national podcast, “Let’s Talk Sped Law” at www.letstalkspedlaw.com
Special education attorney Jeffrey Forte of Fairfield County is interviewed by CT Post reporter, Jo Kroeker, about whether or not parents can record their child’s class session during distance-learning.
Darien parent Tricia Bresnahan said her son, a seventh grader, benefits both from the group instruction online for general education and, when it starts, one-on-one support for his special-education needs. As the district moved online, she said her top priority was to make sure he was learning, and concerns of privacy were secondary to communicating with teachers and peers online.
In the new world of distance learning for kindergarten through 12th grade, teachers are finding different ways to hold classes.
Some record themselves teaching and put the videos online or in programs that students have access to. Others host classroom discussions via videoconferencing apps, from Google Hangouts to Webex to Zoom.
The use of videoconferencing apps has raised questions about whether these lectures can be recorded. Recordings could be helpful for students to review for homework or shared with another student who could not log in at that time for one reason or another.
But is that allowed?
The answer is “it depends.”
Teachers are able to record their online classes and share those recordings with students who were unable to attend, without breaking federal privacy laws protecting students’ educational records, said State Department of Education Chief Performance Officer Ajit Gopalakrishnan.
But to respect the privacy rights of all students, Gopalakrishnan said superintendents should ask parents not to record virtual class sessions, “unless necessary related to access or special education.” In such cases, the district may wish to request a case-by-case conversation with the family, he said.
Districts were waiting for this guidance because recordings could breach student privacy.
Jeffrey L. Forte, who specializes in special education law, said there are restrictions on recording teachers. Connecticut is a two-party state for recording, and parents would need a teacher’s — and more likely an administrator’s — consent.
Instead of going down that route, he recommends parents keep a written log, noting whenever students respond to lectures or experience difficulties with homework or logging on.
“It’s going to make parents more informed participants,” he said. “They have this unique opportunity to see into their child’s education more intimately.”
Using their electronic devices, parents can also take videos or record audio of their child working through math in, for example, a Google Hangout, he said.
“At the end of the day, there are going to be students for whom remote learning won’t work because of their disability,” he said. “That is really where parents should be focusing their efforts on at this time.”
Tricia Bresnahan said she is keeping records of the special-education services her son has received and when they started.
“Some services just aren’t happening,” she said. “Students definitely are not getting what they usually get.”
The more data a parent can collect — documenting whether their child received instruction, how long they were on the computer and if they engaged — the easier it will be for a parent of a special-education child to ask the district to re-evaluate their child to see if they progressed or regressed, Forte said.
Bresnahan, who has a front-row seat to her son’s education, has seen how the 7th grader has progressed in some of his Zoom classes. In some ways, the virtual platform lends itself to inclusion more than the physical building, she said.
In one class, everyone heard the same lecture, but ahead of time, her son received notes with information highlighted and when there was a quiz after, his was modified.
“Everybody is there at the same time, everybody leaves the class at the same time,” she said. “There were times during the year where he would leave while everyone is doing something else, which I don’t think is the best way to handle inclusion. In some ways, this is more inclusive.”
But with the move to online learning, some districts sent out documents asking parents to agree to terms before receiving remote instruction. One of those conditions was not to record the child or teacher instructing the child, Forte said.
“That they cannot do,” he said.
In the weeks since, a lot of those districts have retracted the signature requirements, Forte said.
Superintendents are encouraged to tell parents not to record lessons, and districts should consider whether parents should be permitted to opt-out of live videoconferencing opportunities, Gopalakrishnan said.
However, it is inappropriate for districts to condition students’ access to educational opportunities on parents signing legal waivers, he said.
As Published by The Hartford Courant
By Jeffrey L. Forte, Esq. Op-Ed Contributing Writer
To See The Hartford Courant Article, click here or read below:
Students with disabilities are missing out during COVID-19
By Jeffrey L. Forte, Esq.
Of nearly 550,000 students currently enrolled across Connecticut’s 200 school districts, there are some 80,000 students with disabilities in special education programs. For many of them, school closures effectively halted — or at the least, diminished — their special education and related services.
Services such as small group or one-on-one instruction, paraprofessional support, daily counseling, physical therapy, academic tutoring, speech and language therapy, and behavioral and/or psychological support cannot practically and effectively be delivered by computer, despite best efforts. Given the suddenness of school closures, the economic impact of parents losing jobs, and the lack of technology support that teachers, parents and students are now facing, it difficult to remotely educate students with significant disabilities.
With school closures continuing into late May and perhaps beyond, the gap widens in educational services for students with disabilities. Parents, teachers, administrators and school districts must collaborate and candidly agree that the crucial question to answer is not whether students with disabilities will regress educationally, but rather to what extent will they regress and how will remediation be handled.
Parents and educators alike should be collecting data on their child’s education to compare pre-virus performance to performance during and just after the remote learning period. To that end, there will be a need for statewide compensatory education for our most vulnerable students with disabilities.
In March, the U.S. Department of Education issued guidance on federal education law as a result of school closures caused by the COVID-19 outbreak. The relevant guidance for special education, in summary, is that schools providing educational opportunities to the general student population during a school closure [i.e., by providing online learning], must ensure that students with disabilities also have equal access to the same opportunities, including the provision of free appropriate public education to the greatest extent possible.
As well, the government said that if a child does not receive services during a closure, a child’s school team must make an individualized determination about what compensatory services may be needed to make up for skills that may have been lost.
Many hours of ambitious and meaningful learning have been lost during this school closure period, despite the very best intentions of teachers and school districts. Remediation and compensatory education will be required on a systemic level for students with disabilities to get back to near where they left off before schools closed.
Compensatory education, often referred to as “comp-ed,” is not a “cash payout.” It is not a monetary award that one would typically receive if involved in a civil lawsuit. Rather, comp-ed serves as the appropriate remedy to fund permissible educational services such as tutoring, therapy, evaluations, assessments and other related services that were lost or not delivered during a certain period of time.
Generally, the amount of comp-ed is valued either qualitatively or quantitatively. The quantitative approach is determined by numerical data, such as counting the number of service hours not provided or implemented. The qualitative approach is more about gaining insight and information to determine a student’s baseline versus present level of performance. That is followed by development of a plan to more fully educate a child with additional support, minimizing and hopefully reversing a student’s academic or cognitive regression.
Regardless of the approach, it is important for parents to understand that empirical evidence, such as the collection and documentation of their child’s daily data during the school closure period, will be useful to share with your child’s school team to support your request for compensatory education.
Parents and school district teams need to work collaboratively to determine what compensatory education will make each individual student whole. The process is unique and based on each student’s individual needs, it is not a one-size-fits-all approach.
Jeffrey L. Forte is a special education attorney and certified child advocate. He is the founding member of Forte Law Group LLC of Shelton and Rocky Hill. For more information visit www.fortelawgroup.com
The coronavirus has caused yet another unexpected serious problems in the lives of Americans – coronavirus bullying. Yes, unfortunately it is a thing. Because the coronavirus originated in China, there unfortunately has been an increase in the harassment, assaulting and targeting of Asian American families throughout the US. This type of racial hatred is not only unamerican and divisive, but is also inherently discriminatory, illegal and a violation of civil rights. As a result, on March 16, 2020, the United States Department of Education (USDOE) issued nationwide guidance calling on all school districts across the country to ensure that the civil rights of students are protected in order to continue to keep our students safe and secure.
Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VI), prohibits discrimination based on race, color, and national origin by schools receiving federal funds. Moreover, under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 504), as well as Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), school districts must also prohibit discrimination based on a student’s disability. Thus, school districts should be mindful of their legal requirements under Title VI, Section 504 and Title II to ensure that all students affected by the coronavirus outbreak are able to study and learn in a safe educational environment that is free of discrimination, including during the period of school closure where students are accessing remote educational opportunities online.
In Connecticut, bullying is generally defined as the use of verbal or physical acts directed at a student that causes physical or emotion harm to such a student so as to create a hostile educational environment. Bullying includes any verbal and physical acts or gestures that are based on or perceived to be discriminatory based race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or express, socioeconomic status, academic status, physical appearance, or mental, physical appearance, or from any mental, physical, developmental, or sensory disability.
Each school district in Connecticut is required to develop and implement a safety school climate plan to address the existence of bullying in schools. Schools are required to provide teachers and staff with training on bullying. It is important for parents to know that a school must notify the parents or guardians of students who commit any verified acts of bullying and the parents or guardians of students against whom such acts were directed not later than 48 hours after the completion of the investigation. The school must then invite the parents or guardians of a student who commits any verified act of bullying and the parents or guardians of the student against whom such act was directed to a meeting to communicate to such parents or guardians the measures being taken by the school to ensure the safety of the student against whom such act was directed and to prevent further acts of bullying.
Bullying safeguards prohibit and protect students from bullying on school grounds, at a school-sponsored or school-related events, at school functions or programs whether on or off school grounds, at school bus stops, on a school buses, and for any acts that occur outside of the school setting if such bullying creates a hostile environment at school for the student against whom such bullying was directed, infringes on the rights of the student against whom such bullying was directed at school, or substantially disrupts the education process or the orderly operation of a school.
Parents are encouraged to file a formal bullying complaint with the local school district immediately after any bullying incident occurs. The procedure in which to file a bullying complaint can be found on your local school district website.
New12 Connecticut of Fairfield County interviewed Attorney Jeffrey Forte of Forte Law Group on the impact the COVID-19 crisis is having for parents of children with disabilities regarding special education.
Do you need to hire a special education lawyer in Connecticut for your child, but you don’t know where to start? Join me as we briefly discuss and learn the importance of hiring the right Connecticut special education attorney for you and your child with a disability. Whether you live in Fairfield County, Middlesex County, Hartford County or elsewhere in Connecticut, hiring the right special education lawyer is a critical decision. In this video and article below, let us briefly walk you through what you should look for.
Thinking of Hiring a Connecticut Special Education Attorney for your Child?
If you and your family are thinking of hiring a special education lawyer and live in Connecticut, you are in luck. Connecticut has a small, but very strong and experienced group of parent special education attorneys. We are a tight knit, collaborative group of legal professionals with a profound desire to help families of children with special needs. Many of us, in fact, are parents of a child with a disability ourselves. My youngest son is on an IEP for dyslexia.
The most important decision is deciding which Connecticut special education attorney is right for you and your child. Many of us have different styles, approaches, and connections. So, finding (a) the right fit for you (b) that suits your child’s needs, (c) coupled with the experience and credibility level of the right attorney is critical to advance your child’s case. I will more fully answer this question in just a moment, but first let’s briefly understand the special education process here in Connecticut.
What is the Special Education Process Like in CT?
Briefly speaking, the special education process should “typically” “follow these steps:
Step One – The parent or a teacher notices a deficit, delay or challenge in your child’s learning process and refers your child for initial eligibility for special education.
Step Two – Your child is “comprehensively” evaluated by a team of clinical professionals and educators within your local school district to address each of your child’s deficits and delays. The evaluations should include, among other things, academic, cognitive, psychological, behavioral, social, and emotional assessments, as well as possible literacy, speech/language, psychiatric, occupational, and/or physical assessments as deemed necessary.
Step Three – Your child is then identified and diagnosed with a disability that impacts your child’s access to his or her education.
Step Four – A 504 plan or IEP is then developed for your child with specific and measurable goals and objectives to address your child’s challenges that are ambitiously appropriate.
The entire special education process is designed to be “collaborative” and “non-adversarial” in nature, meaning that you and your local school district team work together, as one team, to mutually develop an ambitiously appropriate educational plan and related services that are uniquely designed to help your child make meaningful progress year over year. The process is designed so that you and your local school district team do not need lawyers. Sounds simple and straightforward, right? Well, that’s not always the case. Perhaps that is even why you have stumbled across this law article.
Unfortunately, the reality is that the special education process does not always go smoothly, despite even the best intentions of some members of your child’s school team. There are flaws in its design. Oftentimes the special education process can be adversarial in nature. It may become adversarial when you ask for items such as an independent educational evaluation, increase in service hours, related services, a change in placement, paraprofessional support, OG or Wilson trained instruction, ABA services, ESY and the like and your local school district team denies your request. In other words, the school district team says “NO” to something that you, as a parent, feel is critically and clinically important to have on your child’s 504 plan or IEP. Even worse, you may not even get that far because your child may have been denied special education eligibility in the very first place. Sometimes, but not always, school districts take advantage of you, because the fact is that most parents do not know special education laws or the rights of their child with a disability.
This is the time to have a legal consultation with the right Connecticut special education attorney. You should hire a special attorney as soon as your local school district decides to become adversarial with you and challenges you by denying services or placement that you feel is appropriate for your child.
Should You Hire an Advocate Instead?
You may be asking yourself, why not just hire a special education advocate instead, or, just handle your child’s education yourself without an attorney or advocate. There’s an old saying about lawyers – “the lawyer who represents himself has a fool for a client.” Because you are the parent of your child, it is nearly impossible for you not to be emotional and objective when it comes to the determination as to what constitutes a legally appropriate education for your child with a disability. You need the right attorney on your side that is going to zealously represent you and all of your child’s special educational interests – no matter what – to the fullest extent as mandated by the law. This is where the right Connecticut special education lawyer is important to have on your side.
Limitations & Scope of Advocates
Special education advocates serve a very important and helpful role for the services that they provide. As a special education attorney, I work with several well-respected, highly established professional special education advocates throughout Connecticut and often provide parents with referrals to those advocates and vice versa. If you decide to retain a special education parent advocate, you will want to research their experience, certifications and credentials. For example, did they complete COPAA SEAT, William & Mary Law School Institute of Special Education Advocacy Clinic, or have they taken a Wrightslaw advocacy training program? Have they shadowed a special education lawyer? Are they certified as a special education parent advocate? Certainly, the right special education advocate can help you prepare for an IEP meeting and attend the meeting with you in order to assist you with communicating your child’s needs. However, that is typically where an advocate’s services end. Anything more than helping you to prepare for or attending an IEP meeting can legally and ethically be considered Unauthorized Practice of Law (UPL). If a non-attorney advocate that is not licensed and admitted to practice law within Connecticut provides you with legal advice or assists you with preparing for mediation, filing for due process or reviews a settlement agreement, or anything that otherwise maybe considered “legal action,” the advocate is committing UPL. Experienced advocates know this and will refer you to a special education attorney at the appropriate time. Moreover, unlike lawyers, advocates are not legally or ethically required to take mandatory continuing legal education to keep informed and up to date on the latest laws and cases in special education.
A special education lawyer does not have the limitations that an advocate does. Thus, even if your advocate has done great work, which most that are certified and experienced do, it can often be discarded by districts and all the hard-earned dollars that you have invested may end up being for nothing in the long term. That is why I always recommend parents to have an initial legal consultation with a special education lawyer first in order to develop a strategic legal plan of action, which may or may not include collaboratively working with an experienced advocate as well.
While many advocates are excellent, in that they are certified, trained and experienced, or have substantial knowledge from being in the field of special education for years, special education attorneys are legally trained to understand special education legal procedure, rules of evidence, have knowledge of school district lawyers, state mediators, hearing officers and judges. Special education lawyers know how to conduct direct and cross-examination of witnesses, write legal briefs based on case law, know who, where and how to obtain critical expert evaluations and how to quickly and legally analyze FERPA documents, IEPs, evaluations, and legal discovery. Perhaps most importantly, the right special education attorney knows how to “preserve the record” at an IEP meeting for due process and/or federal court appeal. Attorney’s fees in special education due process cases are also often recoverable, while advocate fees are not. Thus, if you succeeded at due process, you may be entitled to receive all or some of your investment back. A comprehensive legal consultation with the right special education attorney will fully inform you about the strength of your case. Lastly and most importantly, you shouldn’t skimp on legal services when seeking to legally protect the civil rights of your child with a disability. You wouldn’t skimp on other services your child needs, (i.e, medical appointments, therapy, equipment) right?
Price vs. Value
A great colleague of mine, Christine Lai, Executive Director of Connecticut’s Special Education Legal Fund (“S.E.L.F”), recently wrote an excellent article about special education lawyers in the nutmeg state, entitled “A Parent’s Guide to Connecticut Special Attorneys.” Christine’s research found that special education attorneys in Connecticut charge anywhere from $250 to $450+ an hour. Alternatively, some Connecticut special education attorneys charge a flat fee for a certain period of time within the range of $5,000-$7,500 for a specific type of legal service. Some attorneys charge for an initial consultation, some do not. Mediation costs typically exceed $10,000 and due process hearings can cost north of $50,000 all in with attorney and expert fees. Regardless of a special education attorney’s hourly rate or flat fee charge, and various rates for mediation and/or due process, Warren Buffett said it best when he said: “Price is what you pay. Value is what you get.” There is another interesting article I recently read on Forbes by contributing writer Amy Rees Anderson, entitled “Nothing is More Expensive Than A Cheap Lawyer.” …The title speaks for itself.
Finding the Right Connecticut Special Education Attorney for You & Your Child – Ask Questions!
So how do you find the right special education lawyer for you and your child? First and foremost, personally go and meet with special education attorneys. Note, when meeting with a special education attorney, it is important to realize that it is a two-way street. Just like you are interviewing the attorney, the attorney should also be interviewing you. What I mean by this is the right special education attorney should be evaluating the strength and weaknesses of your child’s case from the moment you first call. What are the strengths (and weaknesses) of your child’s potential case? What is the end result that you are seeking for your child? What is your style like, compared to the style of the attorney you are seeking? What does the lawyer’s website say, does the lawyer even have a website? Has the attorney recently presented or published on recent developments in special education law? Does the lawyer currently serve on any non-profit boards? What community involvement does the lawyer have in the disability community? Has the attorney handled special education cases within your local school district? Does the attorney have previous experience in handling the type of disability that your child has? What software and systems does the attorney have in place to ensure your child’s confidential medical, psychological and education records remain confidential, encrypted and HIPPA compliant? Will the attorney you are interviewing with be handling your child’s case all the way through, or will parts of your child’s case be freelanced to another attorney or law firm associate and if so, who, where and why? What is does client availability look like for the attorney? Who answers the office phone? Does the attorney or law office staff immediately return your call and provide a straightforward answer? Does the attorney have law office staff? Does the attorney have an office? If not that’s okay, but where does the attorney typically meet with a new client? What technology does the attorney use for the benefit of client communication and exchange of information? Will the attorney provide you with a recent or past client reference? Does the attorney keep you fully informed on billing? Does the attorney have any online reviews? (For example, you can read and view my client reviews here: http://www.fortelawgroup.com/endorsements/). What type of professional relationship and reputation does the attorney have within your local school district and, more importantly, with the lawyer or law firm that represents your local school district? Will the attorney’s approach damage or mend you and your child’s relationship with your local school district? Are you seeking a lawyer with a litigious and aggressive approach right out of the gate that will draw blood first, or an attorney that is legally strategic, but not immediately combatant with your child’s school team? What experts does the attorney use and what results have those experts achieved for other children? Lastly, special education attorneys are after all people too, often with a family member of their own that may have a disability. Does the attorney have anything personally or professionally going on that may prevent or mitigate his or her fullest legal attention to your child’s special education case?
In summary, I strongly advise any and all parents of a child with a disability to have a comprehensive initial legal consultation with the right Connecticut special education lawyer first. The consultation should be scheduled the minute you believe your child’s school district is becoming adversarial with you or you believe your child is being denied the right to receive a free appropriate public education that your child is legally entitled to receive.
By Jeffrey L. Forte, Esq. | Forte Law Group LLC | www.fortelawgroup.com
A Special Education Attorney & Certified Child Advocacy Law Practice
As we all come to grips with the new temporary norms across our country due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it is critical that we understand and fully appreciate the impact this outbreak is having on special education and related services to our students with disabilities and their families. It is absolutely essential that families make informed decisions about the educational wellbeing of their children with disabilities by consulting with their local education agency. It is also equally important that families know their child’s rights under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) during this crisis situation, including their potential rights to compensatory education (“comp ed”).
What is Compensatory Education?
Under the IDEA, local educational agencies (LEAs) are legally obligated to provide all children eligible to receive special education and related services with a free appropriate public education (FAPE). If your LEA does not give your child the special education and related services they are supposed to be providing as forth in your child’s IEP, your child may be eligible to receive compensatory education. Compensatory education is a compensation fund so to speak that helps your child catch up on lost time, hours and related services for the duration of when your child was denied a FAPE. The amount of time and services that your child missed is referred to as compensatory education.
Is Your School District Closed, Open or Available for E-Learning?
If your LEA is closed and is not providing any educational opportunities to the general student population during the COVID-19 outbreak (i.e., school closure similar to a snow day), then your LEA is not legally required to provide services to children with disabilities during the same timeframe. The problem arises, however, when your LEA decides to offer online learning or e-learning alternatives to the general student population, even if voluntary, while not offering the same opportunities for specialized instruction and related services to students with disabilities pursuant to their IEP or 504 plan. In essence, your LEA, despite its best intentions, is providing educational opportunities to “some” students, but not others and therefore is not legally compliant.
Just this week, the United States Department of Education (USDOE) issued guidance to LEAs on how to appropriately handle providing special education and release services to children with disabilities during the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (“COVID-19”) outbreak. The USDOE provides guidance that your LEA “must ensure that, to the greatest extent possible” each student with a disability be provided the special education and related services set forth in the student’s IEP or 504 Plan. The present concern that parents should inquire about is how their LEA is going to ensure that a student with a disability receives their IEP or 504 special education and related services “to the greatest extent possible” during the school closure. I anticipate this is where a plethora of compensatory education claims will need to be examined and provided once schools are back in session. The anticipated issues will include to what extent and amount of compensatory education will legally need to be provided.
How is Compensatory Education Calculated?
Generally speaking, the starting point in determining any compensatory education award is by showing when a parent knew or should have known about their child’s denial of a FAPE. To put this into context, if your child’s LEA decides to remain closed, but starts to offer e-learning programming for general education students, but not the same to children with disabilities, you should mark and enter that date down in a journal.
Next, you need to look at what educational benefits would have accrued during your child’s denial of a FAPE period. This requires you to examine both the qualitative and quantitative benefits your child would have received had your child been offered a FAPE. There is no “cookie-cutter” approach to this analysis since your child’s education is specialized and uniquely designed to meet his or her needs.
Lastly, it is critical that you keep and maintain a sufficient record of your child’s right to claims of compensatory education. An impartial hearing officer cannot appropriately determine the amount of your child’s compensatory education claim unless you as a parent are able to provide the hearing officer or mediator with sufficient insight as to the precise type of educational and related services your child missed in order further to promote your child’s progress as set forth in your child’s IEP goals and objectives and service hours.
My firm and I are actively monitoring updates from the USDOE as well as following how LEAs are offering educational programming to students with disabilities in order to ensure our children are being appropriately education to the greatest extent possible during COVID-19 outbreak.
Q&A for Parents: What You Need To Know Relating to a School District’s Responsibilities to Provide Special Education & Related Services to Children with Disabilities During the Coronavirus Virus Outbreak
By Special Education Attorney Jeffrey L. Forte, Esq. | Forte Law Group LLC
The United States Department of Education just issued guidance to local school agencies on how to appropriately handle providing special education and release services to children with disabilities during the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (“COVID-19”) outbreak. While the spread and concerns of the COVID-19 outbreak continues, this blog is intended to provide a brief “need-to-know” for all parents of a child with a disability on how this impacts your child’s Section 504 or IEP based education.
QUESTION 1: Is my local education agency (LEA) legally obligated to provide a free appropriate public education (FAPE) to my child with a disability during the COVID-19 outbreak?
ANSWER 1: NO. Specifically, if your LEA has decided to close its schools to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 outbreak, and does not provide any educational services to the general student population, then your LEA is not legally required to provide services to students with disabilities during that same time frame.
QUESTION 2: If an LEA continues to provide educational opportunities to the general student population during the COVID-19 outbreak, is my child with a disability also entitled receive the same educational opportunities that are being provided to the general student population during the school closure?
ANSWER 2: YES. Your LEA must ensure that your child with a disability has equal access to the same educational opportunities as the general student population during the school closure, including the right to a FAPE, pursuant to the legal provisions of the Section 504 and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Moreover, your LEA “must ensure that, to the greatest extent possible” each student with a disability be provided the special education and related services set forth in the student’s IEP or 504 Plan. The present concern that parents should inquire about is how their LEA is going to ensure that a student with a disability receives their IEP or 504 special education and related services “to the greatest extent possible” during the school closure. Arguably, I anticipate this is where a plethora of compensatory education services hours will need to be made up and provided once schools are back in session. The anticipated issues will include to what extent and amount of compensatory education will legally need to be provided.
QUESTION 3: If my child with a disability contracts COVID-19 and is absent for an extended period of time while school is open, must my LEA provide special education and related services to my child?
ANSWER 3: YES. If your child with a disability contracts COVID-19 while your LEA is open, your child may be eligible to receive special education and related services by way of homebound instruction arrangements with your LEA.
QUESTION 4: May an IEP team consider a remote or distance learning plan in your child’s IEP if the COVID-19 outbreak causes school closure?
ANSWER 4: YES. Though not required, IEP teams may include and provide for remote and distance learning plans in your child’s IEP. Such a plan would be considered a “contingency provision” and may include delivering your child’s special education and related services at an alternate location or via online or through virtual instruction to the extent that such instruction is meaningful. Such a plan should be discussed as an IEP team.
QUESTION 5: My LEA school district is closed, but my child with a disability attends a private therapeutic out of district special education school that is open. Is my child’s LEA obligated to continue to transport and educate my child at my child’s out of district specialized placement?
ANSWER: NO. Please see question and answer 1. If your LEA is closed due to the COVID-19 outbreak, then all students are not attending school and therefore your LEA does not need to provide transportation or education for your child at your child’s out of district school. That said, you should call your child’s out of district school and inquire if it is continuing to remain open and decide whether or not you want to arrange for your own transportation to and from your child’s private school.
To view the US Department of Education’s recent guidance, click below:
Fairfield County Special Education Attorney Jeff Forte discusses the basics and general overview of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act in this parent empowering tutorial video.
If you suspect your child may have a disability, then it is critical that you to become familiar with the special education acronym and legal term “IDEA.” IDEA stands for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. It serves as the governing legal authority for all special-education and related services that a child with a disability receives throughout a child’s academic tenure within the public-school system.
The IDEA was originally enacted in 1975 by the U.S. Federal Congress. At that time, it was referred to as the Education for All Handicapped Children Act. Over the years since then, it has been reauthorized and is now referred to as what we now call it today the IDEA.
The basic premise of the IDEA is that it is a federal special education law which requires each state that receives federal education funding to comply with both the procedural and substantive requirements of the IDEA. When a parent knows or suspects that their child has a disability, the IDEA is the law that parents should become familiar with in order to more appropriately advocate for the special educational rights and related services of their child.
One of the most critical aspects of the IDEA that is important for parents to understand is just because your child has been clinically diagnosed with disability does not necessarily mean that your child is eligible to receive a special education and related services under the IDEA. Under the IDEA, there are three main requirements.
The first requirement is age – a child may be eligible to receive a special education between the ages of 3 through 21 years of age. The second requirement is disability – there are 13 disability categories that a child may be found eligible under the IDEA. The last requirement is the most important one – a child’s disability must “impact their access” to receiving an education in order to qualify for special education and related services. If a child is found eligible for special education, then the child is entitled to receive special education and relates services through the development an Individualized Education Program, or called an IEP.
The September 2019 issue of Fairfield County Parent Magazine featured a leading article authored by special education attorney Jeffrey Forte entitled, “School Refusal Requires Immediate Action.” The article includes practical tips on how to address a child’s anxiety and school refuse within the IEP.
The September 2019 issue of Connecticut Parent Magazine featured a leading article authored by special education attorney Jeffrey Forte entitled, “School Refusal Requires Immediate Action.” The article includes practical tips on how to address a child’s anxiety and school refuse within the IEP.
William Hornyak and his wife, Mary Ann Choeun, found out through friends that one of their son’s teachers had posted to social media a video of him “acting up” in class. Now, the couple is planning to sue that teacher, the town of Norwalk and the town’s school board.
The attorney for the parents of an 8-year-old boy whose teacher allegedly posted his misbehavior in class on social media has filed legal documents that are a precursor to a lawsuit with the Norwalk town clerk’s office.